Hatch-Kohl S724 Senate Bill

July 11, 2003 - The Senate Judiciary Committee amended S724 on June 19th. The amendment left intact the original exemptions in S724 for black powder, fuses, e-matches and igniters. There were two major changes to the bill. The first was the addition of propellant weight limits with respect to the motor and storage. The second was that the exemption only applies to APCP model rocket motors.

Under the amended S724, commercially manufactured black powder in quantities not to exceed 2 pounds, safety and pyrotechnic fuses, quick and slow matches, electric matches and igniters are exempt from storage and permit requirements if they will be used in rockets that do not carry any - (A) explosive, incendiary, or poison gas; (B) bomb; (C) grenade; (D) explosive or incendiary charge of more than three-quarter ounce; (E) mine; or (F) device similar to any device referred to in subparagraphs (A) through (E). This part is the same as the original S724 bill. This exemption applies regardless of the type of propellant used in the rocket.

In the amended S724, the only rocket propellant exemption is for ammonium perchlorate composite (APCP) propellant. While other propellants are not currently on the ATFE Explosives List, if they are added to the list at a later date, they will not be exempted by the amended S724. Only model rocket motors containing no more than 0.9 pounds of APCP intended to be used in rockets that do not carry any - (A) explosive, incendiary, or poison gas; (B) bomb; (C) grenade; (D) explosive or incendiary charge of more than three-quarter ounce; (E) mine; or (F) device similar to any device referred to in subparagraphs (A) through (E) are exempt from ATFE permit and storage requirements. A company, individual, organization or private educational institution could purchase and store an unlimited quantity of model rocket motors with no more than 0.9 lbs of APCP without the need for ATFE permits. Any individual, company, organization or private educational institution that wishes to purchase APCP model rocket motors with more than 0.9 lbs of propellant will need to obtain an ATFE permit.

An interesting aspect of the amended S724 is that it exempts both non-detonable (1.3) and detonable (1.1) APCP model rocket motors with 0.9 lbs of propellant or less. The amended S724 would permit a person to buy unlimited quantities of 1.1 APCP without an ATFE permit. While manufacturers currently do not sell a 1.1 APCP, there would be no restrictions for buyers if they decided to do so. Also, amateurs could make 1.1 APCP motors with 0.9 lbs of propellant or less and legally transport these motors anywhere in the country and store an unlimited amount without an ATFE permit.

An individual, company, organization or private educational institution will not have to meet federal storage requirements with APCP model rocket motors containing more than 0.9 lbs of propellant as long as the total weight of all these motors in his possession does not exceed 25 lbs and the motors will be used in recreational model rockets. Model rocket motors with 0.9 lbs or less of APCP are not counted towards the 25 lb propellant weight. The storage exemption also does not apply if the rocket motors are to be used in business, research or educational pursuits.

H-K S724 has serious problems and deficiences that make it unacceptable. The first is that the exemption only applies if the APCP is used in model rocket motors. Nowhere are "model rocket motors" defined in the bill. Consequently, the ATFE will define this term.. Will it be defined as "rocket motors made of cardboard tubes and clay nozzles" or "with an impulse not to exceed 160 Newton-seconds" or "single use applications only". We don't know.

Another problem is the term "recreational model rockets". Again, it is not defined in the bill and will be defined by the ATFE. Will that definition be "made of cardboard tubes, wood fins and plastic nosecones" or "not to exceed a lift off weight of 3 lbs" or "not to exceed a diameter of 3 inches and length of 48 inches"? We do not know. However, no one expects the ATFE to write definitions that will be favorable to the future of rocketry.

A third problem with the H-K S724 is that the 0.9 lb of propellant applies to both non-detonable 1.3 APCP and detonable 1.1 APCP as the phrase "ammonium perchlorate composite propellant" is used with no distinction between classes. You will notice that the same phrase is used in the ATFE proposed rocketry regulation with no distinction in classes. So what is the big deal? Why is it important in one and not the other? The difference is that in one case the phrase is used in a federal regulation and in the other United States Code. The federal regulation can be changed at will by the ATFE, but only Congress can change the United States Code. If a distinction between classes of APCP in the US code is not made and 1.1 class APCP 0.9 lb motors start floating around out there, the ATFE can only revoke the exemption by going to Congress and having the law changed, which is a time consuming process.

Click to view S724 as changed by the Hatch-Kohl amendment in PDF format.


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